Did you know that 1 in 6 Australian couples of reproductive age are affected by infertility? Imagine 6 of your friends. Yep, at least one of them is going to need medical assistance with starting a family. According to IVF Australia, Infertility is the inability to conceive a pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse. For me personally, infertility is like a constant grieving process that is tied up in a world of confusion, pain and loneliness.
From my earliest memories I knew I wanted to be a mum. I clearly remember thinking that when I grow up, I will do what I have to do around work and career (standard) just to tick the box and then live for my true passion – having babies. I had a vague plan. I was going to get married by 23 and have my first baby no later than 25. I would have at least 3 kids and definitely be done by 30. That’s the norm right? Well it was in my family, the ones I focused on anyway. My great grandma (turning 95 this year!) had my nana when she was 20, my nana gave birth to my mum at the age of 18, mum gave birth to my sister at 21 and had the 3 of us kids by the time she was 24. Everyone in my family seems to be one of 3 kids, except for my grandparents on my dads side who were one of 11 and 8 (yes, we have a very large extended Greek family). So being a young mum with a bunch of kids was very appealing to me.
Reality happened and I married my beautiful husband Tim when we were both 27 years old. Still young enough! We had been together since we were 19 years old, and honestly he captured my attention immediately. We met in the back seat of my friends car (sounds a lot more raunchy than it was, believe me!) and danced the night away, meeting up at the bar for shots of Cowboys at good ol’ Metro night club in Melbourne. That night he managed to ‘steal’ my phone. Apparently it’s a great way of seeing a girl you like for a second date? He would of course tell you a different story about the first time we met. Apparently we had met twice before, for some (possibly intoxicated) reason I can’t remember. I seemed to have made a lasting impression on him.
Fast forward to our honeymoon in April 2014, I immediately went off the pill. I was ready! Let’s make me a baby! There was a problem though. After being on the contraceptive pill for around 8 years at that point, I was still waiting for my period to return. I waited, waited and waited some more. Nothing.
I was never informed of the long term side effects of the contraceptive pill. It may have been printed on the leaflet in the box, but who really reads that when every one of your girlfriends and their friends are taking the pill and says it’s fine. The amount of times I got the prescription from different doctors and not one of them told me that maybe I should look into other, safer options. I believe this lack of information is a huge concern for girls today and no one actually talks about it! Obviously the pill is not totally to blame for infertility but what I’m certain of is if I ever have a girl baby I will definitely be helping her to look into other avenues for contraception.
After doing some research myself, I’ve found that the pill may not cause long-term infertility after discontinuation, but it can delay fertility by up to a year. The delay is caused by the pill’s impact on the production of cervical fluid, an essential component of conception. And this delay can be critical as women are starting their families much later in life now than in earlier decades. Studies now show that for each year the pill is taken, the cervix ages by an extra year. In simple terms, if you start the pill when you’re 20 and stay on the pill for 10 years, you can end up with the cervix of a 40 year-old. That’s pretty alarming don’t you think? It can take a long time after a woman stops the pill for her cervix to function again. And her cervix may never recover some of those lost capacities.
When I stopped the pill on our honeymoon in 2014, my period never returned. I gave it a good year. I saw an Acupuncturist regularly, I looked after my health and ate fattier healthy foods like avocado, fatty fish, olives and even tried to gain a bit of weight as I was aware that without adequate fat stores, the body can stop making oestrogen, which can cause irregular menstrual cycles. I looked after myself with lots of sleep and some exercise (although I’m really not a huge exercise fan besides walks with friends). I waited patiently, well as patiently as someone desperate as me to get pregnant could wait.
When early 2015 rolled around, I saw a female Gynecologist. I was opposed to seeing a male, as unlike some of my friends I have never been quite comfortable with males talking to me about body parts that they don’t possess themselves. Assuming she’d have the compassion and empathy that I was so desperately seeking, especially after paying her a few hundred dollars, I was quickly put back in my place and reminded that I was just another number, another infertile patient as she bluntly shot a long list of invasive questions at me. Anxious and overwhelmed, I left there in tears.
It was recommended that I have my fallopian tubes tested to see if they were blocked. The test used is called a HSG (hysterosalpingogram) which is a special kind of x-ray used to evaluate female fertility. During the procedure a thin catheter is inserted through the cervix into the uterus and a special material dye is injected. From what I had learnt, it seemed pretty straight forward and I should feel minimal discomfort or pain. For me, this experience was more shocking to my system than any I’ve ever experienced. After the procedure one might say it was like I’d seen a ghost!
In March 2015 after still no period, I buried my preconceived ideas about male doctors in the ground and made another appointment with a gynechologist who specialised in infertility. He had fantastic reviews, he must be great! After waiting a good 45 minutes to see him, a man in his mid to late 40s, very vague, Asperger’s type personality with the understanding and memory of a goldfish, entered the room (yes he also made me cry in later appointments. I started to wonder….maybe, just maybe it was me and not them?). After a few rushed questions, stopping me mid sentence to answer the telephone 3 + times as one of his patients was in labour, this Gynecologist told me that I needed to start injecting myself with a hormone called Gonal F. Gonal F is a naturally occurring hormone that is used to stimulate a follicle (egg) to develop and mature. Now to me, the thought of going to the doctors to get an injection was something that I’d rather avoid unless it was life or death. Yes I’m a wuss when it comes to pain or the thought of it. The amount of times I’ve had blood tests in my life and the amount of times that the doctor or nurse has ‘accidentally’ missed the vein – I’ve lost count, it’s almost laughable.
On day 3 of my induced period, I anxiously and hesitantly began injecting my stomach on a daily basis. It was an incredibly emotional and sensitive time for me. I lived with a huge amount of fear and anxiety those 10 or so months in 2015/ 2016. Not only because of the fear, shame, doubt, secrecy, confusion and loneliness of the whole experience, but also because the hormones I was putting into my body were completely messing with my already chaotic mind. The cruel and f’ed up part for women on infertility drugs? These drugs actually mimic what it feels like to be pregnant (or what Google was telling me pregnancy felt like) and I was 100% convinced that I was pregnant on several occasions, even pushing the nurses for a blood test, just to be sure. Tired, bloated, moody, crampy and nauseated with a big fat negative and feelings of failure. Some days I felt so incredibly nauseous and faint that I struggled to show up for work or my daily activities and put on the mask of being ‘okay’. When you feel that sick for an extended period of time and you’re not getting your desired result, it really impacts on your mental state and when your mental state is off balance, it impacts all areas of your day to day functioning. Depression lingered.
Thousands of dollars later, tears, high anxiety, arguments, make ups, doctors appointments, wild hormones, fertility drugs, blood tests, 30 + internal ultrasounds, overwhelm, waiting, progesterone pessaries, fatigue, pregnancy tests, constant nausea, more waiting, nurse appointments, depression, more anxiety, secrecy, needles, sadness, impatience, embarrassment, failure, shame, wondering if it was ever going to happen and 5 rounds of Ovulation Induction later I am so grateful to say that we conceived our beautiful baby boy.
This was most definitely the hardest year I’ve had in the past 10 years. And the interesting part? Only a handful of people knew. I am very good at acting like I’m fine when I’m going through something big. That year I was working 4 days a week as a grade 5 teacher whilst studying to be a Life Coach and I had my usual smile on my face and bubbly personality. I actually can’t help but smile and feed off others’ energy when I am around people. It makes you wonder, who else around you in the workplace, in your family, in your friendship group is going through infertility behind closed doors, all the while seeming like everything is hunky dory on the surface?
I’ll never forget telling Tim I was pregnant. The amount of pregnancy tests I had obsessively taken over the last couple of years was enough to buy us our own baby. Ok, bad joke. But really. Tim had told me to stop taking them and driving myself crazy! Of course I didn’t listen. After 4 weeks of feeling so sick in the stomach, dizzy, vague, exhausted and struggling to stomach my food (unusual for me at the worst of times!) but knowing for a fact I couldn’t be pregnant and that these hormones of this 5th OI cycle were messing with me more than ever, I took a test. You can imagine my disbelief when long and behold, it had 2 lines! Was I hallucinating? I started getting teary, confused and overwhelmed with joy all at the same time. I went upstairs and sat down next to Tim and didn’t say a word. He straight away knew something was up. I blurted out the news and in disbelief we both laughed, smiled and cried! Best moment ever! I later gave that stick that I weed on to my mum as a way of letting her know she was going to be a grandmother. I’m pretty sure she’s kept it as a sentimental item!
When I got the phone call after my blood test to confirm pregnancy, the Doctor told me that because my hormone levels were so high, it looked as though I may be having twins OR that I was further along in pregnancy than 4 weeks. The latter was the truth. I was almost 8 weeks pregnant, meaning that after I got my period on the last cycle of Ovulation Induction and I didn’t bother taking a pregnancy test, I was actually already 4 weeks pregnant. How could I have been pregnant if I had my period? Well, apparently many women bleed during pregnancy. And I was one of them!
I was very blessed with my pregnancy and birth. No I didn’t feel amazing the whole time, we did have a couple of scares along the way and yes birth was hard but the stars all did align and my boy was and is a healthy, happy, lively little bundle of energy who I completely and utterly adore and that’s all I ever could’ve hoped for.
In hindsight I reflect, ‘Oh it was only 10 or so months and I got the baby, so many women go through years and years of IVF with no such luck. Maybe you’re just over emotional and sensitive, Janine.’ Other women are even going through the IVF process and freeze their eggs and plan on waiting to meet their future partner before they can use these precious eggs. It’s easy to downplay my experience when I compare with what some poor women have to endure. But I know my experience (or parts of my experience) is true for several of you women reading this. I’ve come to realise that us women (including myself) are a lot stronger than we sometimes believe we are.
You DO NOT have to do this alone. I was very quiet about the whole situation and only sometimes talked about it to my sister or close friends. I was frozen from fear and exhausted from thinking and secretly obsessing about getting pregnant almost everyday for 2 whole years, I didn’t want to talk about it as well. Not talking about it was me lying to myself or trying to get away from the facts of what was happening. I know now that holding it all in did have a detrimental effect as it all built up and up until I was eventually not just bubbling over but losing the plot completely- usually at my poor Tim.
What would I suggest to myself if/when I have to go through this again?
-CONNECT with others. You never know, you may actually help someone else or realise that many people have or are going through the same or similar thing.
-Get PROFESSIONAL HELP. It’s not for everyone but talking about a problem often helps remove the sting of the pain. You may learn coping techniques. And as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.
-JOURNAL. Write down the main feeling/thought in the middle of the page ‘i.e’ Got my period- another missed chance. Then write down (or dump) all the words or thoughts that come to mind around it- no editing. Once you’ve exhausted all thoughts, write a list of the positives. They may not be easy to find when you’re feeling pain but there is always a silver lining in every situation.
-ACCEPTANCE and TRUST. Accept and trust that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and there is a reason for your experience.
Today, life with a 2 year old is honestly my best life yet. I feel as though I was reborn when I had Jordan. The minute I saw him I had an instant love and connection and blurted out as they passed him to me, ‘my baby, I love you!’ (corny but true) I was instantly obsessed, in awe of the perfect little human we created, so much so that I was awake for almost 3 days after. It’s safe to say that it was a rocky start to his life with his completely sleep deprived, obsessed and beyond exhausted, mastitis prone, hormonal, crying (for at least 3 weeks) new mother. I would cry because I was so happy, so tired, so in love and so hormonal. I laugh thinking about it now. It’s all part of the crazy ride and unconditional love of motherhood. Reflecting on my experiences, I do see now why we didn’t conceive our boy in 2014 and why the universe wanted him here 2 years later. If I had it my way now, I would not change a single thing.
Did you make it this far and read to the end? Have you been through infertility or know someone who has? I’d love to hear your feedback and comments below!
POSTS BY JANINE
- Work, Guilt and Motherhood
- Permission to Self Care
- Toddlers, Tantrums and Triumphs
- Overcoming fear and perfectionism
Janine Graham is a Mum, a Primary School Teacher and a Wellness and Mindfulness Coach. Janine works with women to refocus their energy on what aligns with their values and supports and challenges them to create a greater overall life satisfaction. Janine is skilled and passionate in empowering women in issues such as body confidence, relationships, fertility, parenting, life balance and unconditional self-love. Make contact with Janine today for your free, no obligation clarity call.
Follow more of Janine’s story on Free To Be Me – Wellness Coaching’s Facebook Page and Website.